The hospitality of a trail wagon was aptly expressed in the invitation to enjoy ourselves. Some one had exercised good judgment in selecting a camp, for every convenience was at hand, including running water and ample shade from a clump of cottonwoods. Turning our steaming horses free, we threw ourselves, in complete abandonment and relaxation, down in the nearest shade. Unmistakable hints were given our host of certain refreshments which would be acceptable, and in reply Forrest pointed to a bucket of creek water near the wagon wheel, and urged us not to be at all backward.
Every one was well fortified with brown cigarette papers and smoking tobacco, and singly and in groups we were soon smoking like hired hands and reviewing the incidents of the morning. Forrest's cook, a tall, red-headed fellow, in anticipation of the number of guests his wagon would entertain for the day, put on the little and the big pot. As it only lacked an hour of noon on our arrival, the promised fresh beef would not be available in time for dinner; but we were not like guests who had to hurry home--we would be right there when supper was ready.
The loss of a night's sleep on my outfit was a good excuse for an after-dinner siesta. Untying our slickers, we strolled out of hearing of the camp, and for several hours obliterated time. About three o'clock Bob Quirk aroused and informed us that he had ordered our horses, and that the signal of Sponsilier's cattle had been seen south on the trail. Dave was impatient to intercept his herd and camp them well down the creek, at least below the regular crossing. This would throw Bob's and my cattle still farther down the stream; and we were all determined to honor Forrest with our presence for supper and the evening hours. Quince's wrangler rustled in the horses, and as we rejoined the camp the quarters of a beef hung low on a cottonwood, while a smudge beneath them warned away all insect life. Leaving word that we would return during the evening, the eleventh-hour guests rode away in the rough, uneven order in which we had arrived. Sponsilier and his men veered off to the south, Bob Quirk and his lads soon following, while the rest of us continued on down the creek. My cattle were watering when we overtook them, occupying fully a mile of the stream, and nearly an hour's ride below the trail crossing. It takes a long time to water a big herd thoroughly, and we repeatedly turned them back and forth across the creek, but finally allowed them to graze away with a broad, fan-like front. As ours left the stream, Bob's cattle were coming in over a mile above, and in anticipation of a dry camp that night, Parent had been advised to fill his kegs and supply himself with wood.
Detailing the third and fourth guard to wrangle the remuda, I sent Levering up the creek with my brother's horses and to recover our loaned saddle stock; even Bob Quirk was just thoughtless enough to construe a neighborly act into a horse trade. About two miles out from the creek and an equal distance from the trail, I found the best bed-ground of the trip. It sloped to the northwest, was covered with old dry grass, and would catch any vagrant breeze except an eastern one. The wagon was ordered into camp, and the first and second guards were relieved just long enough to secure their night-horses. Nearly all of these two watches had been with me during the day, and on the return of Levering with the horses, we borrowed a number of empty flour-sacks for beef, and cantered away, leaving behind only the cook and the first two guards.
What an evening and night that was! As we passed up the creek, we sighted in the gathering twilight the camp-fires of Sponsilier and my brother, several miles apart and south of the stream. When we reached Forrest's wagon the clans were gathering, The Rebel and his crowd being the last to come in from above. Groups of saddle horses were tied among the trees, while around two fires were circles of men broiling beef over live coals. The red-headed cook had anticipated forty guests outside of his own outfit, and was pouring coffee into tin cups and shying biscuit right and left on request. The supper was a success, not on account of the spread or our superior table manners, but we graced the occasion with appetites which required the staples of life to satisfy. Then we smoked, falling into groups when the yarning began. All the fresh-beef stories of our lives, and they were legion, were told, no one group paying any attention to another.
"Every time I run a-foul of fresh beef," said The Rebel, as he settled back comfortably between the roots of a cottonwood, with his back to its trunk, "it reminds me of the time I was a prisoner among the Yankees. It was the last year of the war, and I had got over my first desire to personally whip the whole North. There were about five thousand of us held as prisoners of war for eleven months on a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay. The fighting spirit of the soldier was broken in the majority of us, especially among the older men and those who had families. But we youngsters accepted the fortunes of war and were glad that we were alive, even if we were prisoners. In my mess in prison there were fifteen, all having been captured at the same time, and many of us comrades of three years' standing.
"I remember the day we were taken off the train and marched through the town for the prison, a Yankee band in our front playing national airs and favorites of their army, and the people along the route jeering us and asking how we liked the music. Our mess held together during the march, and some of the boys answered them back as well as they could. Once inside the prison stockade, we went into quarters and our mess still held together. Before we had been there long, one day there was a call among the prisoners for volunteers to form a roustabout crew. Well, I enlisted as a roustabout. We had to report to an officer twice a day, and then were put under guard and set to work. The kind of labor I liked best was unloading the supplies for the prison, which were landed on a near-by wharf. This roustabout crew had all the unloading to do, and the reason I liked it was it gave us some chance to steal. Whenever there was anything extra, intended for the officers, to be unloaded, look out for accidents. Broken crates were common, and some of the contents was certain to reach our pockets or stomachs, in spite of the guard.
"I was a willing worker and stood well with the guards. They never searched me, and when they took us outside the stockade, the captain of the guard gave me permission, after our work was over, to patronize the sutler's store and buy knick-knacks from the booths. There was always some little money amongst soldiers, even in prison, and I was occasionally furnished money by my messmates to buy bread from a baker's wagon which was outside the walls. Well, after I had traded a few times with the baker's boy, I succeeded in corrupting him. Yes, had him stealing from his employer and selling to me at a discount. I was a good customer, and being a prisoner, there was no danger of my meeting his employer. You see the loaves were counted out to him, and he had to return the equivalent or the bread. At first the bread cost me ten cents for a small loaf, but when I got my scheme working, it didn't cost me five cents for the largest loaves the boy could steal from the bakery. I worked that racket for several months, and if we hadn't been exchanged, I'd have broke that baker, sure.
"But the most successful scheme I worked was stealing the kidneys out of beef while we were handling it. It was some distance from the wharf to the warehouse, and when I'd get a hind quarter of beef on my shoulder, it was an easy trick to burrow my hand through the tallow and get a good grip on the kidney. Then when I'd throw the quarter down in the warehouse, it would be minus a kidney, which secretly found lodgment in a large pocket in the inside of my shirt. I was satisfied with one or two kidneys a day when I first worked the trick, but my mess caught on, and then I had to steal by wholesale to satisfy them. Some days, when the guards were too watchful, I couldn't get very many, and then again when things were lax, 'Elijah's Raven' would get a kidney for each man in our mess. With the regular allowance of rations and what I could steal, when the Texas troops were exchanged, our mess was ragged enough, but pig-fat, and slick as weasels. Lord love you, but we were a great mess of thieves."
Nearly all of Flood's old men were with him again, several of whom were then in Forrest's camp. A fight occurred among a group of saddle horses tied to the front wheel of the wagon, among them being the mount of John Officer. After the belligerents had been quieted, and Officer had removed and tied his horse to a convenient tree, he came over and joined our group, among which were the six trail bosses. Throwing himself down among us, and using Sponsilier for a pillow and myself for footstool, he observed:
"All you foremen who have been over the Chisholm Trail remember the stage-stand called Bull Foot, but possibly some of the boys haven't. Well, no matter, it's just about midway between Little Turkey Creek and Buffalo Springs on that trail, where it runs through the Cherokee Strip. I worked one year in that northern country--lots of Texas boys there too. It was just about the time they began to stock that country with Texas steers, and we rode lines to keep our cattle on their range. You bet, there was riding to do in that country then. The first few months that these Southern steers are turned loose on a new range, Lord! but they do love to drift against a breeze. In any kind of a rain-storm, they'll travel farther in a night than a whole outfit can turn them back in a day.
"Our camp was on the Salt Fork of the Cimarron, and late in the fall when all the beeves had been shipped, the outfit were riding lines and loose-herding a lot of Texas yearlings, and mixed cattle, natives to that range. Up in that country they have Indian summer and Squaw winter, both occurring in the fall. They have lots of funny weather up there. Well, late one evening that fall there came an early squall of Squaw winter, sleeted and spit snow wickedly. The next morning there wasn't a hoof in sight, and shortly after daybreak we were riding deep in our saddles to catch the lead drift of our cattle. After a hard day's ride, we found that we were out several hundred head, principally yearlings of the through Texas stock. You all know how locoed a bunch of dogies can get--we hunted for three days and for fifty miles in every direction, and neither hide, hair, nor hoof could we find. It was while we were hunting these cattle that my yarn commences.
"The big augers of the outfit lived in Wichita, Kansas. Their foreman, Bibleback Hunt, and myself were returning from hunting this missing bunch of yearlings when night overtook us, fully twenty-five miles from camp. Then this Bull Foot stage came to mind, and we turned our horses and rode to it. It was nearly dark when we reached it, and Bibleback said for me to go in and make the talk. I'll never forget that nice little woman who met me at the door of that sod shack. I told her our situation, and she seemed awfully gracious in granting us food and shelter for the night. She told us we could either picket our horses or put them in the corral and feed them hay and grain from the stage-company's supply. Now, old Bibleback was what you might call shy of women, and steered clear of the house until she sent her little boy out and asked us to come in. Well, we sat around in the room, owly-like, and to save my soul from the wrath to come, I couldn't think of a word that was proper to say to the little woman, busy getting supper. Bibleback was worse off than I was; he couldn't do anything but look at the pictures on the wall. What was worrying me was, had she a husband? Or what was she doing away out there in that lonesome country? Then a man old enough to be her grandfather put in an appearance. He was friendly and quite talkative, and I built right up to him. And then we had a supper that I distinctly remember yet. Well, I should say I do--it takes a woman to get a good supper, and cheer it with her presence, sitting at the head of the table and pouring the coffee.
"This old man was a retired stage-driver, and was doing the wrangling act for the stage-horses. After supper I went out to the corral and wormed the information out of him that the woman was a widow; that her husband had died before she came there, and that she was from Michigan. Amongst other things that I learned from the old man was that she had only been there a few months, and was a poor but deserving woman. I told Bibleback all this after we had gone to bed, and we found that our finances amounted to only four dollars, which she was more than welcome to. So the next morning after breakfast, when I asked her what I owed her for our trouble, she replied so graciously: 'Why, gentlemen, I couldn't think of taking advantage of your necessity to charge you for a favor that I'm only too happy to grant.' 'Oh,' said I, 'take this, anyhow,' laying the silver on the corner of the table and starting for the door, when she stopped me. 'One moment, sir; I can't think of accepting this. Be kind enough to grant my request,' and returned the money. We mumbled out some thanks, bade her good-day, and started for the corral, feeling like two sheep thieves. While we were saddling up--will you believe it?-- her little boy came out to the corral and gave each one of us as fine a cigar as ever I buttoned my lip over. Well, fellows, we had had it put all over us by this little Michigan woman, till we couldn't look each other in the face. We were accustomed to hardship and neglect, but here was genuine kindness enough to kill a cat.
"Until we got within five miles of our camp that morning, old Bibleback wouldn't speak to me as we rode along. Then he turned halfway in his saddle and said: 'What kind of folks are those?' 'I don't know,' I replied, 'what kind of people they are, but I know they are good ones.' 'Well, I'll get even with that little woman if it takes every sou in my war-bags,' said Hunt.
"When within a mile of camp, Bibleback turned again in his saddle and asked, 'When is Christmas?' 'In about five weeks,' I answered. 'Do you know where that big Wyoming stray ranges?' he next asked. I trailed onto his game in a second. 'Of course I do.' 'Well,' says he, 'let's kill him for Christmas and give that little widow every ounce of the meat. It'll be a good one on her, won't it? We'll fool her a plenty. Say nothing to the others,' he added; and giving our horses the rein we rode into camp on a gallop.
"Three days before Christmas we drove up this Wyoming stray and beefed him. We hung the beef up overnight to harden in the frost, and the next morning bright and early, we started for the stage-stand with a good pair of ponies to a light wagon. We reached the widow's place about eleven o'clock, and against her protests that she had no use for so much, we hung up eight hundred pounds of as fine beef as you ever set your peepers on. We wished her a merry Christmas, jumped into the wagon, clucked to the ponies, and merely hit the high places getting away. When we got well out of sight of the house--well, I've seen mule colts play and kid goats cut up their antics; I've seen children that was frolicsome; but for a man with gray hair on his head, old Bibleback Hunt that day was the happiest mortal I ever saw. He talked to the horses; he sang songs; he played Injun; and that Christmas was a merry one, for the debt was paid and our little widow had beef to throw to the dogs. I never saw her again, but wherever she is to-night, if my prayer counts, may God bless her!"
Early in the evening I had warned my boys that we would start on our return at ten o'clock. The hour was nearly at hand, and in reply to my inquiry if our portion of the beef had been secured, Jack Splann said that he had cut off half a loin, a side of ribs, and enough steak for breakfast. Splann and I tied the beef to our cantle-strings, and when we returned to the group, Sponsilier was telling of the stampede of his herd in the Panhandle about a month before. "But that run wasn't a circumstance to one in which I figured once, and in broad daylight," concluded Dave. It required no encouragement to get the story; all we had to do was to give him time to collect his thoughts.
"Yes, it was in the summer of '73," he finally continued. "It was my first trip over the trail, and I naturally fell into position at the drag end of the herd. I was a green boy of about eighteen at the time, having never before been fifty miles from the ranch where I was born. The herd belonged to Major Hood, and our destination was Ellsworth, Kansas. In those days they generally worked oxen to the chuck-wagons, as they were ready sale in the upper country, and in good demand for breaking prairie. I reckon there must have been a dozen yoke of work-steers in our herd that year, and they were more trouble to me than all the balance of the cattle, for they were slothful and sinfully lazy. My vocabulary of profanity was worn to a frazzle before we were out a week, and those oxen didn't pay any more attention to a rope or myself than to the buzzing of a gnat.
"There was one big roan ox, called Turk, which we worked to the wagon occasionally, but in crossing the Arbuckle Mountains in the Indian Territory, he got tender-footed. Another yoke was substituted, and in a few days Turk was on his feet again. But he was a cunning rascal and had learned to soldier, and while his feet were sore, I favored him with sandy trails and gave him his own time. In fact, most of my duties were driving that one ox, while the other boys handled the herd. When his feet got well--I had toadied and babied him so--he was plum ruined. I begged the foreman to put him back in the chuck team, but the cook kicked on account of his well-known laziness, so Turk and I continued to adorn the rear of the column. I reckon the foreman thought it better to have Turk and me late than no dinner. I tried a hundred different schemes to instill ambition and self-respect into that ox, but he was an old dog and contented with his evil ways.
"Several weeks passed, and Turk and I became a standing joke with the outfit. One morning I made the discovery that he was afraid of a slicker. For just about a full half day, I had the best of him, and several times he was out of sight in the main body of the herd. But he always dropped to the rear, and finally the slicker lost its charm to move him. In fact he rather enjoyed having me fan him with it--it seemed to cool him. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Turk had dropped about a quarter-mile to the rear, while I was riding along beside and throwing the slicker over him like a blanket. I was letting him carry it, and he seemed to be enjoying himself, switching his tail in appreciation, when the matted brush of his tail noosed itself over one of the riveted buttons on the slicker. The next switch brought the yellow 'fish' bumping on his heels, and emitting a blood-curdling bellow, he curved his tail and started for the herd. Just for a minute it tickled me to see old Turk getting such a wiggle on him, but the next moment my mirth turned to seriousness, and I tried to cut him off from the other cattle, but he beat me, bellowing bloody murder. The slicker was sailing like a kite, and the rear cattle took fright and began bawling as if they had struck a fresh scent of blood. The scare flashed through the herd from rear to point, and hell began popping right then and there. The air filled with dust and the earth trembled with the running cattle. Not knowing which way to turn, I stayed right where I was--in the rear. As the dust lifted, I followed up, and about a mile ahead picked up my slicker, and shortly afterward found old Turk, grazing contentedly. With every man in the saddle, that herd ran seven miles and was only turned by the Cimarron River. It was nearly dark when I and the roan ox overtook the cattle. Fortunately none of the swing-men had seen the cause of the stampede, and I attributed it to fresh blood, which the outfit believed. My verdant innocence saved my scalp that time, but years afterward I nearly lost it when I admitted to my old foreman what had caused the stampede that afternoon. But I was a trail boss then and had learned my lesson."
The Rebel, who was encamped several miles up the creek, summoned his men, and we all arose and scattered after our horses. There was quite a cavalcade going our way, and as we halted within the light of the fires for the different outfits to gather, Flood rode up, and calling Forrest, said: "In the absence of any word from old man Don, we might as well all pull out in the morning. More than likely we'll hear from him at Grinnell, and until we reach the railroad, the Buford herds had better take the lead. I'll drag along in the rear, and if there's another move made from Dodge, you will have warning. Now, that's about all, except to give your cattle plenty of time; don't hurry. S'long, fellows."